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Wayne Markley

by Wayne Markley

There is a long history of animals acting like humans in comic books dating back to the earliest newspaper strips. perhaps the greatest of example of these was Pogo, who first appeared in animal Comics and later in his own newspaper strip called Pogo. There was also the classic Fox and the Crow; Bugs Bunny and the whole Warner Brother’s stable of characters; and we cannot over look the importance of the wonderful world of Disney’s characters, a mouse, a duck, a horse, and many others.


Blacksad is an amazing noir crime fiction series with animals as the lead characters acting as humans. There have been four volumes out so far with a fifth volume coming this summer. Blacksad is a French series by a pair of Spanish creators, Juan Díaz Canales (writer) and Juanjo Guarnido (artist), and these stories could easily be from the days of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. John Blacksad is a cat; Smirnov, the police Commissioner, is a German Shepard; Weekly, John’s occasional sidekick, is a weasel; etc. all of the other people of this world are various animals. like the children’s classic, Babar, these stories are so strong that you don’t realize that the characters are animals and not people. Unlike Babar, these are grimy, dark, violent, sexy stories that will appeal to the noir crime fan (such as fans of Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series from IDW). The stories address a wide variety of themes from 1950s America and weaves them throughout the stories, such as the Communism, Nazis, the a-bomb, and much more. There were three volumes released in France in 2000, 2003, and 2005. These three volumes are collected into one beautiful hardcover by Dark horse books called Blacksad. Dark horse also released the fourth volume in English in 2010 (the same year it came out in France) and it was called A silent Hell.

Let me take a moment and talk about Juanjo Guarnido’s art. It is just breathtaking. He has a painted style that is very European, yet so visually clean and cinematic it is almost like watching a movie. Each panel is packed with detail and each character is so full of life it is amazing. Juanjo is able to move the story along with just the character’s facial expressions. I found myself studying each panel as I read the book as the art is that complex. The dialogue and story by Canales is crisp, sharp, and to the point. At no point it is over written and everyone from the lead characters to a throw away street person has their own distinct voice. Together, Canales and Guarnido have created a world that comes to life unlike almost any other comic as well as telling perfect noir crime stories. In fact, they have won the Angouleme prize for Artwork. Briefly, here is a look at the first four volumes.

Somewhere between the Shadows-This is the first volume of the series and it introduces Jon Blacksad and his world. While later volumes would address more social issues, this first story is a more straight forward crime tale. I loved how the richest man in the city is a frog (modeled after James Cagney) and he is heartless. This is an excellent crime story but it lacks the social consciousness that the other volumes contain.

Arctic Nation-This is the second volume of Blacksad series and the second story in the first Dark horse hardcover collection. The story is about the class system in America in the 1950s, both racially and financially. This story is very violent and is filled with deception and twists and turns. We get to meet Blacksad’s some-time sidekick, Weekly, in this story. Alas, the ending is not a happy one. I found it amazing how well-crafted this tale was. While lifting liberally from American history, it is also very original and I did not see the end coming.

Red soul is the third story in the first Dark horse collection and is printed for the first time in English in this collection. once again the story is complex and filled with twists. The basic story is Blacksad runs into an old friend who draws Blacksad into a conniving woman and a number of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. This is a very good cold war story about how corrupt politicians are and it is very broadly based on the Joe McCarthy era in American politics. Again, the story was extremely original and avoided all of the traditional plots and, as with all of these stories, the art was breathtaking. I should also note that this story picks up right where the last volume ended and does not miss a beat, even though the stories were created many years apart.

Blacksad: A silent Hell

A silent hell is a stand alone hardcover and the second Blacksad book from Dark Horse. This story takes Blacksad and weekly to new Orleans to a murder mystery set in the world of 1950s jazz and the Deep South. as with the previous three stories, this one is filled with twists and turns that youdo not see coming, but feel perfect in the context of the story. once again there is a strong social message underneath the story of the killings and, as with the first three stories, the violence is not shied away from. This collection also includes two short stories featuring Blacksad and his cast of characters. These are very short compared to the other stories listed prior (less than ten pages), but both are very good.

Blacksad: Amarillo

Coming this summer is a new Blacksad collection from Dark horse called Amarillo. This is the newest Blacksad collection out in France and I for one cannot wait to read it. If it is half as good as the first four stories, it will be better than almost anything the American publishers are currently doing.

Spectre Vol. 1: Crimes and Judgments

A book unrelated to the world of Blacksad that I would recommend is the first volume of the Spectre by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. This first volume only collects the first twelve issues of their run of 62 issues (a second volume is coming at the end of the year) but the stories are excellent. Ostrander and Mandrake are able to capture the best of the various Spectre series that preceded theirs, such as Bernard Baily’s run in more fun Comics (available in a very nice Archive HC) and Michael Fleisher/Jim Aparo’s run of the Spectre in adventure Comics. In fact, in Spectre Vol. 1 Crimes and Judgment issue 5 of the series is reprinted where Tom Mandrake does a great full page spread paying homage to Jim Aparo’s run. By the way, Fleisher/Aparo’s Spectre stories were collected in a nice collection called the Wrath of the Spectre. reading Crimes and Judgment reminded me how much I enjoyed the vengeful Spectre, and how I miss him.

Everything written in this blog, good and bad, is my opinion and in no way reflect the thoughts of opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. have you read Blacksad? The Spectre? What did you think? Did you enjoy them as much if did? Why not? I welcome comments and criticisms at MFBWAY@AOL.COM. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you.

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